My Garden This Weekend – 13th April 2014

Maianthemum racemosum

Maianthemum racemosum

Anyone who follows me on twitter regularly will know I have been whining about being ill since Wednesday evening with a cold.  In fact we are pretty certain it was flu as I was completely knocked for six and hardly left my bed or the sofa until this morning.  It has left me feeling quite tired but the sunshine today was just what I needed to start recharging the batteries and get myself back to normal.  There is  nothing more restorative than a slow shuffle, that’s how bad I was, around the garden to see what is growing.  In fact I think I noticed far more than normal.  I  was thrilled to discover my trillium has returned this year with at least three flowers.  This is at least the third year it has flowered so I think I might invest in another one or two this year at Malvern Spring show.  There are so many flowers about to open that the changes seem to happening now on a daily basis.  I was particularly taken with the Maianthemum racemosum (above) which I have always preferred to Solomons Seal.  I thought I had removed all the Solomons Seal from the garden after the disgusting and extensive sawfly attack last year but I noticed today that the spikes of growth were reappearing.  I shall leave them to see how they do but the first sign of the sawfly and they are out.


My son helped out and cut the front grass and finished off the new seating area.  I have the following week off work and I had planned to put the gravel down in this area but I suspect my energy won’t be enough.  However, I can now plant up the slope behind the seating area and my new planting area in front which will free up some space on the patio.  Whilst  he beavered away I plodded along weeding and tidying the Cottage Border, which runs along the top of the wall.


I have been meaning to stake the Delphiniums here for a week or so and it was this task that got be out into the sunshine.  I have learnt from bitter experience that you really need to stake delphiniums early or you end up with a right mess.  I follow Christopher Lloyd’s advice and use bamboo canes.  For the smaller clumps I tie each steam to a cane but for the larger clumps I make a web of string running between the canes; it seems to work.  I grew all the Delphinium from seed and I think they are dwarf variety.  This is good as there can be a wind which whips across the garden despite the neighbours trees along the boundary and the shorter height stops them getting snapped off too much.  Many people tell me they can’t grow Delphinium as the slugs cause too much damage.  I get slugs in my garden generally not an excessive amount but enough.  My approach is to scatter some slug pellets around the plants just as the very first shoots break  the soil.  I believe this kills the slugs that leave in the soil and I think these cause more damage.  If the plant starts life strongly then it is more robust to deal with other attacks.  I also get little slug damage on hostas.


The planting in the border is quite restricted to late spring/early summer but I want some colour later in the year so on a whim I have sown some hardy annuals straight into the soil.  I haven’t done this before.  Normally I sow in trays, prick  out, harden off etc but the plants are often scrawny as I never have enough time to do things in a timely manner so they get leggy.  I am hoping that by sowing straight into the soil the plants will be more compact and robust and will flower later in the season.  I also added some Cerinthe seedlings sown last Autumn which, yes your right, are getting leggy and need planting out.  We shall see how they do.


I thought you might be amused by the state of my compost heaps which are growing an interesting selection of plants at the moment.  So far I have found healthy growing specimens of Sweet Cicely, Lily of the Valley, a Scabious (I think), Rhubarb, and a large Angelica.  I suppose it’s the mild winter we have had that has built  up the heap in the heap and promoted the growth but it is interesting as I don’t remember composting half of them and it shows just how rubbish I am at cutting up plants to go on the heap.  I am eyeing up the Angelica as I think I have a location for it.  To be honest I thought it was a biennial so I am surprised it has reappeared.

The idea of having the whole week  ahead and good weather forecast is amazing. I have no plans for the week apart from taking the car to the garage tomorrow so I am going to see how it pans out.  I might do a little  garden visiting, I might do a little planting, maybe some sowing, maybe some pricking  out – who knows I may even just sit in the sun and enjoy the view.

Posted in April, Cottage Garden Border, gardening, Months, My Garden, My garden this weekend | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Book Review: British Gardens in Time


There is nothing I enjoy more than a bit of history and when it’s coupled with horticulture I am a very happy person.  So I was thrilled to be offered a review copy of British Gardens in Time; the book which accompanies the new BBC series.

The book, and television series, showcase four well-known British gardens with each representing a key stage in the progression of British horticultural design.  As a bonus the book, written by Katie Campbell, starts with a short history of British Gardens.  We are taken on a gallop through history from the Roman influences, through the lack of any real garden interest in the medieval times to the gardens Elizabeth I’s courtiers built to try to woo her.  I particularly appreciated the approach taken by Campbell throughout the book which embraces all aspects of the horticultural world not just the design.  I spent some time a year or two ago learning about garden design history and it was quite clear that the development of garden design not only occurred due to a need for lords to impress and show off their wealth but also due to the plant introductions that were coming in from new colonies overseas.  You have to understand the whole context of the environment the garden was created in, as well as the background of its creator, to fully appreciate the garden.

The four gardens: Stowe, Biddulph Grange, Nymans, and Great Dixter are presented mainly from a historical perspective.  However, the history of the development of each garden is given set within the context of other garden design and influences.  In the case of Stowe we learn how the development of the garden reflects its owner’s Lord Cobham’s changing political views and criticism of Walpole, the then Prime Minister.  At this time many large gardens including allegorical statues and buildings which would have conveyed a hidden message to visitors; something we now find hard to understand.

Biddulph was built on the profits of the industrial revolution by James Bateman a keen botanist and sponsor of many plant hunters.  Therefore this section of the book explores the ‘cult’ of the Victorian plant hunters but also, interestingly to me, the work of female botanical artists many who remain anonymous.  I have found this period of horticultural  history fascinating for some time far more than the development of the landscape garden under Capability Brown’s artistic hand such as at Stowe.  I suspect that it appeals to the romantic in me, all those exciting stories of exploration, as well as to my fascination with plants and where they come from.  Bateman was into orchids, they were his first love, and it is interesting to learn how obsessive and single-minded these collectors and plant hunters could be. Campbell recounts how some plant hunters collected every single specimen of a plant they would carry and destroyed the remainder so only they had the plant.  It seems that in some cases their single-mindedness destroyed whole colonies although I suppose when you consider the Victorian approach to wild game hunting we shouldn’t be surprised that this arrogant approach pervaded other aspects of life.

I haven’t read the final two chapters on Nymans and Great Dixter but if they follow  the style of the first half of the book and the quality of the television series episode on Great Dixter that was shown last week they should be excellent.

I like the way the book uses the four very different gardens to explore the subject of garden/horticultural history including other developments such as the early plant nurseries, plant hunters, plant magazines, the  acceptability of lady gardeners, the foundation of the RHS and National Trust and the influence of other contemporary gardeners and designers.

I found Campbell’s writing style easy and accessible; although relaying a lot of information in a fairly compact style it has a good flowing narrative to it.  The photographs of the gardens by a range of photographers are needless to say wonderful but it is the photographs of the owners and occupiers, particularly for the latter gardens, and the botanical drawings that I really loved.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is in love with the world of horticulture, as I am.  It is like reading about your heroes and heroines with a touch of plant porn thrown in – what more could I ask for!

Posted in Book Reviews, garden, Garden Buildings, Gardens, reading, Reviews, Uncategorized, Visiting Gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Stocktonbury Gardens


Stocktonbury Gardens near Leominster in Herefordshire is a garden I have visited a number of times over recent years but I have never visited this early in the year and I wanted to see the Skunk Cabbages.  I don’t know why it’s just one of those curiosities I have had for a while.  Having seen Tamsin tweet they were opening last week I decided to seize the day and put a note in the diary for Sunday.  Unsurprisingly the weather was not kind and heavy rain was forecast.  The trouble is I am one of those people who sometimes finds it hard to know what to do with themselves when a plan isn’t coming together so off I went.  It’s only a 45 minutes drive from me across towards the Black Mountains of Wales and to be honest a drive across country was good for clearing an overcrowded mind.


Once the rain had eased, a bit, I donned my boots and waterproof and borrowed an umbrella from the owner.  There is something quite nice about visiting a garden in the rain, however perverse that may seem.  I only met one other visitor although I saw a number entering the cafe which has a good reputation.  We smiled and agreed that visiting in the rain was rather good and went our separate ways.  The Skunk Cabbages are at the far end of the garden in The Dingle and were rather wonderful.  I like the luminous yellow of the flowers.  In this area the ground is quite damp and the fritillaries were positively romping away.  They made my three look quite pathetic.


Stocktonbury Gardens is what I would call a working garden.  Whilst it opens on an almost daily basis to the public in season it is actively gardened by the owners and there is a very productive vegetable and fruit production area.  I can say it is productive as I have seen it groaning with produce at other times of the year.


2014_04060092Whilst I like the clean lines of this row of fruit trees which draws the eye from the main garden towards the Dingle I found myself increasingly bored with such formality; at least there was no box edging.  I know that it isn’t everyone’s taste but I enjoy the more higgeldy approach this garden has in some of the garden rooms.  As a gardener I can relate to this style.  I want to accommodate the plants I love in my garden and I need the space to work for me, the paths tend to follow my natural route across the garden which takes into account the gradient.  I want to maximise planting space which isn’t always possible when a formal or inherently preconceived design is imposed on a space.


I would admit though that some of the curves in the borders are quite extreme but then I know from visiting in the summer than when the plants grow up the strong and tight curves cause the view to be obstructed so why not – it’s a nice counterpoint to the formality of other areas.  What I was more interested in was the planting in the borders and the textures achieved with the various foliage even when little is flowering.  This is something I am trying achieve in my garden and I find it easier to understand when I can see a good example.  I am thinking that I might try to return this year on a regular basis to see how the border actually develops in one season.  I have said this before possibly about Stockton Bury or possibly Bryan’s Ground but I am going to try harder this year.


As with any good garden I came away with a number of ideas to try at home.  I saw lots of Lathyrus in the borders and although I have two plants I think I need to add more as it provides such a nice hit of colour at this time of year  and the leaves are a nice contrast to some of the larger geranium leaves.  Oh and the other reason I like this garden is because they have moss in the borders so obviously the ground is as damp as mine can be and it is reassuring to see what does well in these conditions.


It is interesting that you can continue to discover things in a garden you have visited a number of times. I had never noticed the bee boles before.  They are located near the house and I hadn’t explored in this area before not being sure whether it was private or not.  However the brilliant colours of the Anemone pavonina featured in yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday post lured me over and I discovered what I think is called the Spring Garden.  I have a small Spring Garden which is also close to  the house so it was interesting to see a similar approach and what was included.  I need to add more primroses to mine and maybe even try some fritillaries.


As you can see this garden has changing levels just like mine and I think this is another reason why I relate to it.  However, as I have said before, some gardens, for me, just have some kind of spirit about them.  I think it is because they are gardened by their owners, rather than by a committee or a head gardener and team.  The passion and enthusiasm for plants is contagious and very evident at Stocktonbury Gardens, which is why I enjoy visiting it so much.


Posted in April, garden, gardening, Spring, Visiting Gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Wordless Wednesday 9/4/14 – Anemone pavonina


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My Garden this Weekend – 6th April 2013


The Prunus flowering in my garden is always a sign that spring is most definitely here.  The arrival of the flowers is accompanied by the pollinators and there is a constant humming as you work in the garden under the tree.  In fact over the last few weekends the sound of bumble bees has been a constant soundtrack to my gardening and I am sure there are more than in previous years – maybe the milder winter temperatures has been good for them.


The first tulips are flowering.  I think these are Purple Prince and am rather taken with them.  I like the way the petals look like crinkled silk, the colour is so iridescent.  I generally plant the bulbs out in the borders for the following year but after the experience of the badger trashing the garden the winter before last in its pursuit of the tulip bulb I am a little hesitant at doing this; something to ponder. Though looking at the photo below I think these might look good amongst the foliage of the conifers


The weather has been grey and damp with rain showers so outside gardening was a non-starter today but I did get some tidying up and weeding done yesterday.  The small conifer planting is looking quite nice with the various muscari adding a splash of colour. I’m not sure about the geraniums here but again they will add colour until the conifers spread out.


The original woodland border has also had a tidy up.  I have been editing the planting in here and adding taller perennials and some shrubs to the back of the border to give it some more interest – it was all too low  and tiny and bitty.  I have some other late summer perennials to add from the slope which I hope will do well in this slightly shady spot; but I have to wait for Hosta Sum and Substance to put in an appearance as I can’t remember where it is!


As you can see my son has cracked on with pushing the stone wall back to allow space for a bench in the tiny new seating area.  Sadly it didn’t get finished due to the rain; there is so much clay in the soil that it becomes unworkable but he is getting there.  Once done I can order a load of gravel to cover the seating area and the steps leading to it.  You will notice the old tin bath in front of the shed.  I have had this a few years having bought it from a flea market.  It started life as a pond on the patio but didn’t really work; I think the location was too sunny and hot.  In recent years it has been used as a planter for various seasonal interest and it peaked last year when I filled it with masses of bargain basement tulip bulbs.  I had thought about using it for a courgette plant or two but the more I look at its new location the more the idea of reinstating the pond seems to be the way forward.  It will mean sealing up the drainage holes but we were looking for a solution to the water 2014_04060014that will  come from the guttering that is to go on the shed and I think it would look rather good feeding water to the bath pond.  It won’t matter if it overflows onto the gravel and it will be a way of oxygenating the water – she says not really knowing what she is talking about!  There will be a water-butt on the other side of the shed for the other downpipe.

Knowing that I will be ordering a load of gravel in the very near future I took the opportunity yesterday to remove the rotting wood chip from the top path.  The wood chip has been added to for several years but has rotten down so it is more or less compost and full of weeds and perennial seedlings.  The path has irritated me for a while and is one of the areas that has seen a lot of neglect over recent years while I was too busy.  I have decided to replace the wood chip with gravel.  I  know it will get weeds growing in it but I think it will look smarter and I am trying to keep the different hard landscaping material types to a minimum. The composted bark has been tipped down onto the slope for me to work into the soil.


Due to the rain showers on Sunday I went off garden visiting but I will post about that later in the week.  I do so love this time of year, so much promise.

Posted in April, garden, gardening, My Garden, My garden this weekend, The Slope (incl Daisy Border), Woodland border | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two nurseries and a fish lunch


There are certain nurseries I enjoy visiting and there are certain people I enjoy buying plants with.  Today the two came together and I visited Cotswold Garden Flowers with Victoria, Rob and Darren.  I didn’t know Darren but I have known Victoria and Rob for some years.  Victoria and I went to San Francisco last summer and I worked with Rob at Chelsea a few years back. 2014_04040022All three are knowledgeable about hardy exotics which was kind of handy considering I was buying for the slope border which is to have a hardy exotic theme.  Bob’s nursery is fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone interested in plants.  The range is vast and as you can see from the top photo plants are laid out in stock beds so Bob can assess their hardiness and garden worthiness.  During our visit we were accompanied by Victoria’s dog Rufus and Bob’s chickens – luckily the two didn’t quite come face to face.


I was particularly taken with the Euphorbia above although we couldn’t quite decide which variety it was – our suspicion is Euphorbia stygiana although the red older leaves foxed us.  We wondered if the tough growing conditions at the nursery had caused it.


An hour’s blast down the M5 negotiating the inevitable road works too us to our lunchtime destination – The Old Passage Inn.  I had booked this on a recommendation so was a little apprehensive whether it would live up to expectations.  The restaurant is a fish restaurant and is right by the River Severn near Gloucester.  On arrival we were treated to three helicopters flying low along the river towards us – very Apocalypse Now – and landing in the field in front of the restaurant.  They were joined by a fourth and apparently it is common for guests to arrive in this way so long as they book a landing site in advance!


Our lunch was wonderful – Wild Garlic Soup, homemade bread with seaweed flavoured butter followed by Lemon Sole with potatoes, tomatoes and capers – delish.  Sated we set off back up the road to Pan Global Plants; a nursery I have wanted to visit for some time. My keenness had grown after reading the owner, Nick Macer’s, article in one of the glossies about hardy exotics and how you can create an exotic looking garden or border without having to resort to tender plants and the need to overwinter them under cover.


Nick is just beginning to bring his stock out from the protection of the poly tunnels and I was so busy admiring plants and being educated by the others that I  forgot to take any photographs nor did I take any of our full plant trolleys just before we paid.  So you will have to take my word that this nursery is well worth a visit if you are interested in something a little unusual, some with interesting foliage or an unusual flower – really just the not the run of the mill plants.   I could have spent a fortune here so had to keep reminding myself that  my garden is small and not acres and no the rhododendron grande was not suitable for my garden no matter how in love I was with it – even Nick told me I couldn’t have it.  The red leaved Euphorbia put in another appearance although a little different. Nick and I concluded that Bob’s plant was possibly a Euphorbia pasteurii and as his growing conditions were tougher than Nick’s this may have resulted in the red leaves.  Anyway, having already bought Euphorbia pasteurii Phrampton Phatty from  Nick earlier in the year I bought Euphorbia stygiana – I am hoping one of them will produce the older red leaves this time next year.


So here is my haul – it doesn’t look that much here on my patio but I am very excited to  see how they will come together in the new border, although the Aloe striatula is for the hardy succulent border in the front garden.  For those of you curious to know what I bought here is the list:

Aloe striatula
Tetraapanax papyrifera ‘Rex’
Impatiens stenantha
Onoclea sensibilis copper form
Ajuga incuse frosted jade
Polysticum setiferium ‘Plumosum-Bevis’
Asarum splendens
Fatsia ‘Spiderweb’
Euphorbia stygiana
Buddleja salviafolia

I think I may have to avoid plant buying opportunities for a while until I clear the patio of the last  month’s acquisitions but what a wonderful way to spend the day.



Posted in April, Foilage, gardening, Perennials, Plants, Shopping, Shrubs | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Product Review – B&Q easyGrow


Now you may be wondering what I am doing showing you a photograph of a tea-bag and this would be a good question.  However, it is not a teabag in the sense you are thinking but a plant in a kind of teabag!  Trust me it will make sense in a moment.


B&Q invited me to review some plants from their new easyGrow range.  They have been working on developing a way of packaging bedding plants that does away with the polystyrene trays.  As we all know landfill is full of these trays and other plastic pots that are used to transport the plants we fill our  gardens with.  B&Q’s solution is to wrap the plant roots in a small bag – like a tea-bag and then pack the plants into a plastic tray which is recyclable.  The ‘tea-bag’ are biodegradable so will break down in the soil of their own accord.


I received a tray of begonias, which had suffered a little in the post, but when I removed the damaged leaves looked like they would be good and strong plants.  I have planted them up in a pot to provide some summer interest on the patio.  You don’t have to do anything to the plants except plant them in the soil as you normally would and then give them a good soak.  I did find it a little strange handling the plants but I think it was all in my mind.  I am used to pulling bedding plants out of the polystyrene trays and planting them firmly in pots and baskets but for some reason I found myself handling the begonias as though they were going to break.  It may have been because they had suffered some damage in transit or it might have been that it just seemed strange.  However, when you think about it these ‘tea-bag’ rooted plants are no different to when you grow a plant in a jiffy pot which you have rehydrated.


I like the idea behind this range but I do wonder if the tray that the plug plants are in is robust enough to keep them protected during transport from the store. With the polystyrene trays the plants are firmly held in the tray, if the tray hasn’t been allowed to dry out completely, but the easyGrow plants whilst packed into the green tray have a tendency to move around.

You can learn more by watching this Youtube video

However, it is good to see that B&Q are trying to address this problem and I think that gardeners, especially those who are concerned about the amount of trays and pots they send to landfill, will welcome this product.

Posted in garden, Product Testing, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments